One week after the Harvard-Cornell rivalry wrapped up its final regular-season contest of this campaign, we’re back at it this week with two games that qualify for this status: Dartmouth-Vermont and St. Lawrence-Clarkson.
The Big Green (7-7-2, 4-5-0 ECACHL), winners of three of their last four, travel to Burlington to face the first-place No. 13 Catamounts (13-6-3, 7-1-2) — who have won four of their last five. The game will mark the third contest between the clubs in less than a month, but the first at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
“I think playing Dartmouth three times this year is great for college hockey,” said UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon, “and certainly great for the fans in both areas. As with any rivalry, controlling emotions is always an important part of the game plan.”
Big Green head coach Bob Gaudet agreed.
“It’s a really good rivalry with a lot of energy. I don’t think playing them so much elevates the animosity; it’s a fun game. It’s better to play with energy.”
Gaudet’s team enters on the heels of Wednesday’s dramatic come-from-behind 9-8 victory over No. 6 New Hampshire. Down 7-3 after 28 minutes and 8-5 less than a minute into the third period, the Big Green scored four unanswered goals — the last, the game winner, with 1:27 left on the clock.
It was the highest scoring game in the history of the non-conference rivalry, which began in 1936. In addition, it was the highest combined score in a Division I game since February 27, 1999 when Minnesota defeated Minnesota-Duluth, 10-7.
That’s a combined 5,983 games between occurrences.
(A big thanks to USCHO.com’s Mike Machnik for doing the math.)
If you think those numbers are impressive. Check these out.
Since a 1-1 tie with Bowling Green in the opener of Dartmouth’s holiday tournament, the Big Green have outscored their opponents 24-13 in four games — and that includes having been shut out by Union’s Kris Mayotte (who else?) last Saturday.
In those last four games, Dartmouth has scored more goals (24) than it did in its previous 12 games (23).
I’ll let that one sink in for a bit.
This was a team that had been expected to have a dominating offense, but until the last few weeks, it had been MIA. Clearly, it has arrived.
“The game is fundamentally simple,” explained Gaudet, “when you shoot the puck. Sometimes you over-pass the puck instead of shooting it at the goaltender and following up for a rebound. Sometimes there’s too much effort.”
Sneddon’s Vermont squad fell victim to that offense in December when it lost to Dartmouth, 6-3, in the finals of the Ledyard National Bank Classic. That game tied the season series at one apiece (UVM defeated the Big Green, 5-1, in mid-December) and has set the stage for Saturday’s rubber match.
“I think both teams were very similar,” said the coach, “in that we played very well the first game and they did not, and the second game it was the complete opposite.
“Dartmouth is an explosive team and if you don’t play sound defensive hockey, they can put up some offense on your team. I expect this third game to be a close-checking match between two teams hungry for league points.”
The Catamounts enter the game after posting back-to-back shutouts — one each from rookie Joe Fallon and junior Travis Russell — last weekend against Union (10-10-1, 7-3-0) and Rensselaer (9-12-2, 2-7-1). It was the team’s fifth blanking of the season after having posted only six between November 1998 and October 2004.
“I told everyone from the start,” said Sneddon, “that we are fortunate to have a great trio of goaltenders (including freshman Jeff Hill). Travis has been a phenomenal team player this year and has certainly answered well when we’ve called upon him. Joe Fallon was our early-season MVP and continues to shine in net for us.
“It’s a great problem to have … two goalies that give us a chance to win each game. As with all positions, players need to earn ice time, and our staff makes decisions on who we feel will give us the best chance of winning based on past performance, as well as the week of practice leading up to the game. Any games that Joe and Travis start are certainly well-earned.”
Gaudet, who knows many of Vermont’s players from his work in hockey camps in Burlington during the summer, admits what the league and other conferences have learned the hard way. UVM has few weaknesses.
“They are consistent,” he said, “and they get the big goal. They are not up and down. They are very aggressive, play well and get timely scoring. They are really solid from top to bottom and have good depth.”
While this may be the final regular-season game between the teams, there’s a chance that the clubs could meet again in the postseason, which makes this contest all the more intriguing.
Unless you take Sneddon’s point of view, that is.
“We view this game,” he said, “as simply two important ECACHL points that both teams really need. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Meanwhile, in the North Country, the Saints (11-9-1, 5-4-0) and Golden Knights (6-13-2, 2-6-1) square off in one of the more intense rivalries in the sport — aided, of course, by the two universities residing just 10 miles from one another.
SLU enters the contest riding a four-game winning streak after a road sweep of Yale and Princeton last weekend. In Friday’s 6-4 win over the Elis, the Saints scored four power-play goals and launched 45 shots.
Saturday, in another 6-4 victory, St. Lawrence needed ECACHL Player of the Week Stace Page’s game-winner with 34 seconds left and a four-goal third period to seal the deal. The Saints took 39 shots and added two more tallies with the man-advantage.
Junior T.J. Trevelyan, the Saints’ leading scorer, had four goals and six points during the winning streak, while Page notched three tallies and added four assists last weekend to nearly double his point total from eight to 15.
St. Lawrence is also getting key offensive contributions from its blueline. Junior Mike Madill is the team’s top scoring defenseman with four goals and 13 points — two short of his career totals entering the year. In addition, two other blueliners rank among the club’s top seven scorers. Sophomore Drew Bagnall, who tallied 18 points in his rookie campaign, has five goals and 12 points and senior Matt Macdonald’s 10 points are also two short of the total from his previous three campaigns in Canton.
Clarkson, after its 2-1 loss to Yale, is 3-2-1 in its last six contests after suffering through a five-game losing streak that began with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of SLU in November. In that contest, the Saints made two first-period goals stand up until an empty-netter sealed the Knights’ fate.
The biggest stumbling block for Clarkson this season has been inconsistency. Early in the year, when the offense was clicking, the goaltending and defense struggled. More recently, it has been the offense that’s had trouble connecting on a regular basis.
Last season’s top line of Mac Faulkner-Mike Sullivan-Chris Blight, for example, has not been as imposing in this campaign. Faulkner, who had 43 points in 40 games in 2003-04, has just 15 in 21 contests. Blight, who had 19 goals last season, is stuck at four. On the bright side, Sullivan has four goals and five points in his last three contests.
As tough a season as it has been for the Knights, just imagine if their freshman class had not adjusted to the college game as quickly as it has, especially Steve Zalewski. The rookie out of New Hartford, N.Y., has two goals and five points in his last three games and tallied the lone marker in the loss to SLU.
A Model-ski Effort
Yale head coach Tim Taylor has a young squad on his hands, and to say that his club has suffered growing pains would be an understatement. Simply put, the Bulldogs (2-14-1, 2-10-0) have struggled mightily this season.
However, when wins don’t come easily, you look for small victories as signs of progress. Such has been the case for the Bulldogs since New Year’s Eve, when Yale tied nationally-ranked Wisconsin before losing a shootout. After a two-game setback in which the Elis allowed 14 tallies, they rebounded to allow just one goal in back-to-back contests.
“We did what we had to do to stay in the game and to be competitive,” said Taylor about Yale’s efforts in a 1-0 loss to Boston College on Tuesday, which followed a 2-1 win over Clarkson on Saturday.
“It was one of our better defensive efforts of the year. It was a combination of good goaltending and a young defense getting better and better.”
The Bulldogs managed just 11 shots against the Eagles, while allowing a whopping 50. Even so, Taylor was pleased with a blueline corps that includes one rookie and three sophomores
“I’m very pleased with their development,” said the coach. “We’re better and more solid in our end. We’re not giving up a lot of second chances.”
The other ingredient in the recent stinginess is sophomore Matt Modelski. The Michigan native made 26 stops against the Badgers, 32 versus the Golden Knights and 49 against BC.
“He’s quick and good on the initial save,” explained Taylor. “When he’s on, it makes a world of difference. Early on, teams were scoring goals from the outside. It was his Achilles’ heel. At the beginning of the year, when we were giving up so many goals, we were suspect and challenged defensively.
“It was not an easy time for our goaltenders. It was a downward spiral of confidence and no one could get into a rhythm.”
But with an improved defense in front of him, that seems to have changed.
“You don’t play low-scoring games against good teams,” said Taylor, “without getting good goaltending.”
“[The BC game] was a big step for our team,” Modelski remarked. “It shows that the defense is definitely improving. But, at the same point, we still lost and a loss is a loss.
“It’s been a learning process. We’re mostly underclassmen with only four seniors. In the first half, we didn’t know what to expect, especially the freshmen. And the sophomores had to take a bigger role.”
So what has this young club learned after 17 games?
“We need to work hard,” said Modelski. “If we take care of our end of the ice, we’ll make it tough for other teams to beat us. From here on out, these are must-win games for us.
“[The close games] energized us. It gave us a sense that we’re not as bad as everyone says we are. The confidence factor plays a big role. If everyone plays with confidence from the goaltender on out, we feel we can beat anyone on any night.”
With the first half behind us, this season’s two new ECACHL coaches are preparing for their inaugural stretch drives in a conference that takes on a different look in the standings from night to night.
Both Princeton’s Guy Gadowsky and Harvard’s Ted Donato have seen levels of success at the midway point that many didn’t expect.
Gadowsky’s Tigers were coming off a 24-loss season, which was actually an improvement from 2002-03’s 26 defeats. Thus far, Princeton (5-12-1, 4-8-0) has matched its five-win total from last year and is just eight tallies away from surpassing its total goals scored over 31 contests in 2003-04.
Clearly, the change at the top has had a positive effect.
“We’ve set high standards,” said Gadowsky. “We set goals that we can control. We look at the things that we can control and we have been better than we were in October and November.”
When asked what he’s learned from his youthful lot of orange and black skaters, Gadowsky explained that it has been more of a two-way learning experience.
“We’re young with each other,” he said. “No one is really a veteran when it comes to how the players interact with the coaches. As a staff, we are extremely young with relation to our experience in the ECACHL and with the team. But it’s college hockey and that hasn’t changed.
“I’ve been most impressed with the unbelievable intelligence of the group. They are incredibly coachable.”
As for Donato, who had never coached at any level, it has been a learning process since day one.
“I learned a great deal in the first half,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from the assistant coaches and the players themselves. You never know what you’re going to get. If [the players] could be consistent and have great efforts each game then they wouldn’t be human or in the college game.”
One of the most critical lessons for Donato is one that all of us are guilty of missing from time to time.
“I only worry about things I can control,” he explained. “Then you make adjustments during the game — sometimes successfully, sometimes not.”
More often this season, however, the changes have worked. The Crimson had a better first half than most expected and recently snapped a six-game losing streak to rival Cornell — with the lone goal coming off the stick of sophomore Kevin Du, who Donato had relegated to the press box the previous night.
“We have a really intelligent team,” said the coach, “and it’s full of character. We have a certain amount of talent — enough to beat anybody in the country, but not enough to not play well and expect not to lose to anyone.”
The players and atmosphere around the Harvard team are much different from a season ago. Everything is livelier and more energetic. Donato is a big reason for that.
“It comes from the fact that I love playing hockey,” explained the former NHLer. “I want others to love and enjoy it too. I loved and enjoyed my experience playing here. I want them to appreciate their teammates and enjoy this.”
And Then There Were …
It has been a trying season for the Dartmouth Big Green. When star forward Hugh Jessiman went down early with a potential season-ending injury and a handful of his teammates struggled with nagging injuries of their own, it threw Dartmouth’s forwards into a state of flux.
Adjustments were made, but the offense struggled to find itself. Unfortunately for coach Bob Gaudet’s sextet, they received more bad news — from a hockey sense — late in 2004 when three players announced they were leaving the team: defenseman Dave Thompson and forwards Max Guimond and Darcy Marr.
“It happens each year,” explained Gaudet this week, hours before posting the 9-8 win over UNH.
“You try to be supportive of the kids. This is an academic institution and sometimes kids have other aspirations and things that draw them. They’re here for an education.”
Such was the case for both Guimond and Marr.
“Max is in a five-year engineering program,” Gaudet said, “that he’s trying to complete in four years. I’ve never seen that in all of my years here as a player and coach.
Marr, meanwhile, has his eye on medical school.
“There are a lot of things outside of hockey,” said Gaudet, “and sometimes [the sport] isn’t worth the commitment to kids. With David, injuries caused him to not be able to do his work in the offseason and, as a result, he was not able to perform at his best. It’s not his fault.
“I gave up professional hockey after two years. It’s tough, but it’s kinda the way it is. I talk to the kids about it in the offseason and sit with them at the start and quarter-point of the season to discuss playing time and other things. I know that the kids work hard and it is a so-called ‘sacrifice.’ For some, though, it is just a way of life.”
The differing perspectives each player brings to the rink — is this a college experience or am I going to try and make a career out of playing? — adds to the complexities of coaching and motivating 25 or more players.
Ultimately, some players end their careers with their final game as a senior. Others toil in the minors and some make it as NHLers. But ultimately, all will face the decision to hang up the skates. Often, dealing with college life and a heavy academic workload will force that decision.
“Kids learn to budget their time and multitask,” said Gaudet about an experience nearly all college students go through. “It’s a tough dilemma for some kids, especially the ones who are a little older. Maybe they feel that they are not rewarded enough for their efforts or maybe there’s something else that pulls them.”
As a result of the recent personnel losses, the Big Green find themselves without much depth, but, as Gaudet points out, a much tighter team.
“It makes us a really committed group of guys,” he said. “We have enough bodies, but it makes us a leaner group. This is a group that is totally committed to what we’re doing.
“I’m not really excited about carrying extra players. We don’t want to over-recruit or stockpile. We’d rather have a leaner team. It makes everybody accountable and the challenge is really exciting.”
Gaudet continued, with a laugh, “It’s not always fun. Is it fun to win 9-1 (vs. RPI) and lose 1-0 (vs. Union) the next night? No. It’s exciting, but I’m not sure what’s going to happen from game to game.”
In Case You Missed It …
• Brown was swept for the second time all season, both times against Colgate and Cornell, and had not been swept at home since November 2001. Yes, by the same teams.
• With its win on Friday, Clarkson extended its unbeaten streak against Princeton to 13-0-2.
• The Golden Knights have killed off 22 consecutive power plays.
• Colgate’s win over Harvard was the Raiders’ first victory over a ranked opponent this season.
• The Raiders swept the season series against the Crimson and Brown for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign.
• Cornell improved to 7-0-1 when scoring first.
• Coach Bob Gaudet recorded his 100th win at Dartmouth with his club’s win over RPI.
• Big Green forward Eric Przepiorka posted his first collegiate hat trick and added an assist in the win over the Engineers.
• Harvard’s win over Cornell was its fourth over a Top 10 opponent this season. Overall, the Crimson are 5-2-0 against Top 15 teams.
• Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris leads the country in save percentage (.942) and is fourth in goals against average (1.78).
• Princeton’s win over AIC was its first non-conference victory since December 2002.
• RPI is 7-1-1 when scoring first and 5-0-1 when leading after 20 minutes.
• SLU’s four-game winning streak is its best since the 2000-01 season.
• The Saints’ wins at Princeton and Yale marked their first regular-season road sweep since January 2002.
• Union’s win over Dartmouth was its first against the Big Green at home since February 1997.
• UVM’s back-to-back shutouts were the first for the program since it went to Division I in 1974-75.
• Yale snapped an 0-4-1 streak with its win over Clarkson.